A Popular Mayor
Napoléon Drouin was a perfect example of the drive of French-speaking businessmen and entrepreneurs in Saint-Roch at the turn of the 20th century. He was also a talented politician. Combining public service with his business acumen, Drouin was elected a municipal councillor for the first time at the age of 34. As mayor of Québec City, he completed a number of ambitious projects from 1910 to 1916.
Business in his blood
At the tender age of 15, Olivier-Napoléon Drouin left school to help his father run the family grocery store. But the young man had big ideas. Along with his father and two of his brothers, he founded the Quebec Vinegar Company, then Drouin et Frères & Cie. For years the Drouin family was alone in selling the famous Walker & Sons tobacco in Québec City.
In 1899, all the wiser for the experience, the Drouin brothers founded Rock City Tobacco with a cousin and a business partner, the tobacco company that Napoléon Drouin would run until his dying day. His house at the time stood where the Desjardins credit union is today, beside the church and a stone’s throw from where one of his brothers and his business partner lived. Their business would follow market trends, making the switch from chewing tobacco to cigarettes and growing continuously until its products were available all across Canada. It remained in the hands of the Drouin family until the 1960s and is today owned by RBH.
The lure of politics
Napoléon Drouin was elected a municipal councillor for the first time in 1896. He was 34 years old. The positions he took immediately caught the public’s imagination.
Drouin sat on a number of committees, including finance and public procurement. He spoke out in favour of improving fire protection and city watermains. He argued for public baths and libraries for the working classes, and wanted to give the vote to tenants, who were in no short supply in Saint-Roch, his neighbourhood. He also promised not to raise taxes if elected mayor.
An entrepreneur for mayor
These plans and his reputation as a businessman propelled Drouin to the Québec City mayor’s chair in 1910, where he would accomplish much over three terms.
One of his first successes was to acquire land that belonged to the Québec Exhibition Company so that an annual provincial agricultural fair could be held there. As promised, he vastly improved the watermains and hired more firefighters. He modernized the street-lighting system and put in place an innovative new property assessment system. He set up a pension fund for city employees, improved access to the new neighbourhood of Limoilou, and expanded the city by adding Ville-Montcalm, the area known today as Montcalm.
Mayor Drouin stepped down in 1916 with a feeling of “mission accomplished.”
Chairman of the boards
In addition to his political career and the management of his own businesses, Napoléon Drouin also sat on the boards of various projects and organizations.
He was a church warden for the Parish of Saint-Roch when plans for a big new church were announced. And later he was a member of the committee that set up the Québec Liquor Commission, the forerunner of today’s SAQ (Société des alcools). Drouin was also a trustee of the Québec Technical School and chair of the Québec Roads Commission.
Of all the public figures who were born and worked in Saint-Roch, Olivier-Napoléon Drouin was far and away one of the most prominent.